A musical to fall in love with

A musical to fall in love with

The cast of The Great Big Radio Show.

The cast of The Great Big Radio Show.

It’s 1933, we’re in the Radio Building, New York and the big Saturday night broadcast is just about to go on air.

This is the Great Big Radio Show, a weekly variety programme starring Gloria Pilbeam. The only problem is that she can’t be found. Cue much panicking, some desperate hoodlums and a good deal of confusion.

The Great Big Radio Show is a wonderfully funny and fun pastiche musical. Originally performed in the UK in the 1980s, the play will be performed for the first time in Malta next month. It will be revived in London next year.

In Malta, the play is being directed by Polly March, who has a long and interesting relationship with the play. She had the part of Polly Appletree, the nine-year-old singing sensation, originally written for her and later went on to play the character of Myrtle Gray, the PA.

The play was written by Philip Glassborow, a dear friend of March’s. Originally, it was part of a revue and was called Good Evening, Friends. Glassborow wrote it for those who were part of a company based at The Upstream Theatre, in Waterloo.

And some of the characters were given the actors’ own names, hence little Polly Appletree. Yes, she was about nine-years-old, and very, very ‘thweet’ on radio, but was a tough, wisecracking 40-something when off.

When Glassborow revisited and expanded it, he created a different Polly Appletree, ‘America’s Singing Sweetheart’. Those who have heard March sing know that there was no way she was going to be a singing sweetheart – her words, not mine!

“So, she became a teenager, and it was lovely to have a role created for me – the witty, tough, and utterly competent Myrtle Gray, PA to the producer, Bernie Bernstein,” reminisces March.

The Great Big Radio Show has received a raft of critical acclaim, including winning a special commendation in the prestigious Vivian Ellis Awards.

Ellis himself said “it’s a musical to fall in love with”.

Some of the characters were given the actors’ own names

Then it was a finalist (from 491 entries) in ‘The Quest For A British Musical’, with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Richard Stilgoe among the judges. Following this, the Mackintosh Foundation sponsored the premiere at the beautiful Watermill Theatre where it had a six-weeks sell-out run and received multiple positive and laudatory reviews.

This successful play has come round almost full circle for March, as she is now directing it. She explains how this show has stayed with her, probably more than any other: “It is such a happy piece and we were a very happy company – there was a special rapport we had.”

March realised the play would work very well in Malta, since there are some great singers and dancers. The MADC took up the idea.

Hard though it was to admit, she really could not get away with playing Myrtle this time round and directing it was the obvious route to go.

March has handed the baton to Katherine Brown, “who is doing a smashing job of creating her own Myrtle Gray.”

It’s a tiny show, only 11 characters in all, and everyone has to work hard to keep the show live, on air, with a missing star, an eccentric sponsor who decides to stay and watch and gangsters infesting the studio in search of their missing tommy-gun (don’t ask!)

The play also has Alan Montanaro, Katja Brauneis, Joseph Zammit, Katherine Brown, Justin Mamo, Nicola Azzopardi, Mariele Zammit, Luke Saydon, Alexander Gatesey Lewis, Andre Mangion and Michael Mangion as the cast. Cathy Lawlor is vocal coach, Alison Bird the choreographer and Geoff Thomas as the pianist.

“It’s so good to know that the cast all love the piece as much as I do and take great delight in their characters,” says March.

Glassborow’s music is so absolutely right for the period that you feel you already know the tunes when you hear them.

Says March: “It has everything a 1930s musical comedy should have – the dyspeptic producer, the crooner, host of the show; the Ruby Keeler soubrette – the waitress who becomes an overnight star; the mysterious Garbo-esque legendary star; even the two comic gangsters like those in Kiss Me Kate... yes, you’ll recognise them all.”

The Great Radio Show opens at the Manoel Theatre, Valletta on October 17.


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